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Why the anti-war movement should support the Palestinian struggle

By Richard Becker

On Jan. 13 the British government convened a conference focused on "democratic reforms" in the Palestinian Authority. The meeting was in London--capital of the former empire on which, it used to be said, "the sun never set." There, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw pontificated about the Palestinians' "need for a higher quality of public administration."

Present to hear Straw's oh-so-imperial-British admonitions were high-level representatives of the European Union, the United States, Russia, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other countries.

Notable by their absence were the targets of Straw's arrogant instructions--the leaders of the Palestinian Authority. Not that they weren't invited to hear Straw's lecture in person. No, the problem was that Israel, which the corporate media often call "the Middle East's only democracy," wouldn't let them attend.

As a Jan. 14 Associated Press report pointed out: "Israel controls Palestinian travel in and out of the Gaza Strip and West Bank and decides who can and cannot leave."

That one sentence speaks volumes about the real relationship--the colonial relationship--between Israel and the Palestinians. While the number of Israelis and Palestinians living inside Palestine's borders are roughly the same, their status is anything but equal.

The 3.4 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza live under military occupation designed to strangle their economy and drive them out.

Their average per capita income is about one-twelfth that of the Israelis. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are subject to arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Israeli authorities.

The 1.2 million Palestinians living inside the 1948 borders of Israel are third-class citizens. They are prohibited from buying land and subjected to pervasive discrimination.

An equal number of Palestinians, more than 4.5 million, live outside Palestine--those expelled from Israel in 1948 and 1967 and their descendants. Despite many United Nations resolutions affirming their right to return to their homeland, none has ever been allowed back or compensated for stolen lands and property.

Without taking into account the colonial character of Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people it is not possible to understand the struggle that has been raging for more than a half-century.

The anti-war movement and the Palestinian struggle

Some in the anti-war movement advocate side-stepping the Palestinian struggle and focusing only on opposing a new U.S. war against Iraq. They argue that the Palestinian-Israeli struggle is too controversial, and supporting the Palestinians will lead to a narrowing of support for the anti-war movement.

However, separating the U.S. war on Iraq from the U.S.-Israeli war against the Palestinian people does violence to reality. It ignores what the Bush cabal is trying to accomplish in the Middle East.

Washington wants to conquer Iraq, turn it into a virtual colony and take control of its rich oil resources. But that's not all. The U.S. ruling class aims to subjugate and remold the entire region to fit neatly into its expanding empire.

The larger U.S. objective is predicated on destroying all opposition in the region. At the top of the list is the Palestinian Resistance--which, despite heavy losses suffered in decades of struggle against overwhelming odds, remains strong.

The Palestinian cause is central to the overall struggle in the Middle East. Defeating the Palestinians would be a great victory for imperialism and a big setback for the Arab people as a whole.

The Bush administration has given carte blanche to the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon--a war criminal and mass murderer--to carry out this assignment.

Washington has supplied the F-16 fighter-bombers, Cobra helicopters and even the M-16 rifles to the Israeli army. Just as important, the United States has provided the political and diplomatic cover for Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.

Now the Bush administration is contemplating an unprecedented grant of $14 billion in new military and economic aid to Israel, a country of just 6 million people.

Despite all the repression--the tens of thousands of Palestinians killed since the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel; the hundreds of thousands beaten, tortured and imprisoned; the dispossession of the Palestinians from more than 90 percent of their homeland--the resistance has not been crushed.

Expulsion in slow motion

How have the Palestinians been able to persevere under extremely unfavorable conditions? Fundamentally, it is because the struggle is so deeply rooted in the population.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Palestinian resistance and the Palestinian people are one and the same.

From this, Tel Aviv and Washington conclude that the only way to destroy the Palestinian resistance is to uproot and destroy Palestinian society as a whole. And that is exactly what the Sharon regime, with the backing of Bush, Cheney, Powell & Co., are attempting to do.

In 1948, to make way for the state of Israel as an exclusivist Jewish state, 780,000 Arabs were expelled from the cities, towns and farms of Palestine in what is known as "Al-Nakba"--the catastrophe. None of the expelled has ever been allowed to return, nor have they received a penny in compensation for their lost homes, lands and other expropriated property.

Israel, with U.S. backing, has ignored UN resolutions calling for the Palestinian right to return. In fact, a second mass expulsion, of hundreds of thousands more Palestinians, took place after Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war.

A new wholesale expulsion of Palestin ians, such as what took place in 1948, would likely trigger a massive social explosion in the Arab world and beyond. What the Israeli government is now attempting, through a combination of extremely harsh repression and economic strangulation, might be termed "expulsion in slow motion."

Ta'ayush, an organization of Pales tin ian and Jewish activists in Israel, describes the policy in this way:

"Transfer isn't necessarily a dramatic moment, a moment when people are expelled and flee their towns or villages. It is not necessarily a planned and well-organized move with buses and trucks loaded with people, such as happened in Qalqilyah in 1967. Transfer is a deeper process, a creeping process that is hidden from view. The main component of the process is the gradual undermining of the infrastructure of the civilian Palestinian population's lives in the territories: its continuing strangulation under closures and sieges that prevent people from getting to work or school, from receiving medical services, and from allowing the passage of water trucks and ambulances, which sends the Palestinians back to the age of donkey and cart. Taken together, these measures undermine the hold of the Palestinian population on its land." (Ha'aretz newspaper, Nov. 15)

The Israeli army has completely re-occupied the cities and towns of the West Bank, cutting off virtually all economic activity. Malnutrition and extreme poverty have become widespread.

Unemployment has risen to over 90 percent in some areas. Farmers in many villages have stopped planting because they can no longer bring their crops to market.

The deliberate destruction of the Palestinian economy, and the health and education systems, is part of an integrated strategy that also includes assassination--"targeted killings"--and mass arrest and imprisonment.

Since the second Intifada (Uprising) began 27 months ago, more than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed and 30,000 wounded. In the same period, 690 Israelis have been killed. More than 5,500 Palestinians have been imprisoned, many held without specific charges and jailed for indefinite terms.

The assassinations and mass imprisonments aim to destroy the infrastructure of the Palestinian resistance organizations. The Israeli program as a whole is meant to persuade the Palestinians to leave en masse.

Sharon and the other Israeli leaders aspire to fulfill the goals of the political Zionist movement since its origin a century ago: to turn all of historic Palestine into an exclusively Jewish state. A central tenet of the Zionist ideology is expressed in the racist slogan, "A land without people for a people without a land."

The U.S. leaders--not just Bush but Clinton before him as well--want to pacify the entire region, which requires the elimination of the Palestinian resistance movement.

The U.S. and Israeli interests thus neatly converge in seeking the destruction of not only the Palestinian movement, but of the Palestinians as a people.

Despite all the hardship and extreme violence inflicted on them, the Palestinian people are continuing their fight for self-determination and liberation. The Palestinian resistance has been a major obstacle to the launching of a new U.S. war against Iraq.

The anti-war movement here needs to join with progressive forces around the world in supporting the Palestinian people and their just struggle, and opposing all U.S. wars and intervention in the Middle East.

Reprinted from the Jan. 23, 2003, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyrighted under a Creative Commons License.
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